It can be tiresome to debate whether a movie is a drama or a comedy, but at the very least the picture itself should know. Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s start-and-stop riff on A Streetcar Named Desire, tries to meld roaring, Method acting with jaunty Dixieland jazz, at times even in the same scene. And calling it seriocomic won’t help.
Doing the heavy lifting is Cate Blanchett in the title role. A former socialite who has fallen into disgrace after her husband’s conviction for shady business dealings, Jasmine has fled from Park Avenue to San Francisco, where she moves in with her working-class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Pounding pills and vodka and given to muttering to herself, Blanchett fully embraces the raw emotion that drove the similarly plotted Streetcar. Though I initially found her funny as she babbled about her personal life to a stranger on her San Francisco-bound plane, it soon became clear that Blanchett was hinting at the cracks that would burst open as the film went on.
If only this performance was in a different movie, one more in sync with the panic that glints in Blanchett’s eyes.
If only this performance was in a different movie, one more in sync with the panic that is almost always glinting in its lead actress’ eyes. As the narrative progresses, Jasmine essentially suffers a mental breakdown, yet surrounding her are a gaggle of goofy Allen characters: Alec Baldwin, in flashbacks, as Jasmine’s slippery husband Hal; Bobby Cannavale, in the Marlon Brando part as Ginger’s blue-collar boyfriend; Michael Stuhlbarg, as the clumsily amorous dentist who gives Jasmine a receptionist job. Even if these performances were funny – and they aren’t – they’d still be working against the grain of Blanchett’s dominant role.
If these players are too comic and Blanchett is too tragic for the script Allen has written – if they’re too hot and she’s too cold – then who is just right? As Ginger, Hawkins manages to hit those difficult, in-between notes. She’s silly but not jokey in the lighter scenes; angry but not irate in the serious ones. Even better – shockingly so – is Andrew Dice Clay. Balding, barrel-chested, beaten down but still proud, the late-80s curiosity brings a melancholy sort of grace – and nice comic timing – to the part of Augie, Ginger’s ex-husband. A flashback hotel scene between these two, in which they kid each other in their low-rent comfort while visiting the high-strung Jasmine and Hal in New York, is among the sweetest moments in recent movies. Like Blanchett, they deserve a more rigorous movie.